2016 will mark another year of growth for Greece’s tourism industry, Alternate Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said last week during a press conference (5/7) in Athens, where tourism officials reviewed the industry standing in the past six months as well as their plans for investments and to reorganize the Ministry and the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO), as part of further developing the country’s tourism strategy.

Minister Kountoura presented the first official data for 2016 indicating a rise in bookings, ranging from 4% to 30% in key markets, with the exception of the Netherlands, as well as a 5% increase in international arrivals in this year’s first 5 months. “Greek tourism is shifting towards quality and we are promoting Greece as a unique tourist destination, the most competitive destination in Europe in regards to value for money”, Kountoura said, sending the message to all visitors that Greece and the Greek islands are safe destinations with authentic thematic tourism experiences during all 12 months of the year.  “We send a clear signal towards lengthening the tourist season, developing specialized forms of tourism and promoting new tourist destinations, while proceeding into major reforms in the fields of tourism education and the simplification and codification of tourism legislation,” she said.

Tourism ministry is expected to receive double funding — to the tune of 20 million euros — to promote Greece’s image and tourism more effectively to countries abroad, including targeted actions to boost visitors from Europe, America, China and the Middle East. The main focus of the Ministry’s strategy will include cooperation plans with China (including the launch of direct air flights throughout the year), an outreach to the Indian and South American markets and an emphasis to attract more visitors from the Middle East markets, especially from the United Arab Emirates. 

According to official data for tourists from China, a total of 150,000 Chinese came to Greece in 2015, while in previous years the annual arrivals did not exceed 40,000. As Kountoura stated, there is great potential to increase tourist arrivals from China and numbers over 500,000 Chinese visitors this year would be considered a success for Greece.

As far as the Russian market is concerned, despite some technical problems in the visa procedure that led to some loss in bookings for Greece, six leading Russian tour operators recently reported a bookings increase from 30% to 60%. Minister Kountoura estimated that any rise in arrivals from Russia surpassing last year’s data (an estimate of 650.000 Russian tourists visited Greece in 2015), will be a positive result with the aim being for Russian visitors to exceed 1million in 2016.

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Speaking at the press conference, Secretary General for tourism policy and development Yiorgos Tziallas announced the Ministry’s plans for the development of luxury resorts in various Greek destinations, including the “one-stop-shop” service, established to facilitate larger scale projects. In fact, there are 15 new investment plans for five-star tourist accommodation complexes waiting for licenses from the Ministry’s special service (EYPATE), with a total value of 5bn euros, two of which (in Laconia and Kea) have already received a license, four waiting for a joint ministerial decision to be released (two in Corfu, one in Milos and one in Ios), while the rest are being processed in a fast pace. It is worth mentioning that in the last two years EYPATE has been processing permits for the establishment, modernization, expansion and upgrading of about 100 hotel facilities of over 300 bed capacity.

During July, a new legislative framework that has been formed in cooperation with the Finance Ministry is expected to enter Parliament for consultation and adoption, in order to tackle the problem of “underground economy” created by unlicensed short-term home rentals. Moreover, in the coming months, the Ministry will create a new state subsidies program for new tourism enterprises across the industry with the emphasis being placed on cooperative ventures and the promotion of alternate forms of tourism.

GNTO’s Secretary General Dimitris Tryfonopoulos pointed out that Greece is recognized as one of the most dynamic and unique tourism brands worldwide and announced that an advertising budget of 13,65mn euros have been approved for the second half of 2016 and the year 2017. He further explained that at the core of GNTO actions are the lengthening of the tourist season, developing specialized forms of tourism – such as gastronomy tourism, canoe-kayaking, diving parks, etc -, promoting new tourist destinations, maintaining and increasing the market share from Greek tourism’s traditional markets, increasing receipts from tourism and penetrating selected new markets, such as China, Korea, Iran, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, aside from the traditional markets of Germany, the UK, France and Italy.